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Apple downstream investment pushes Australia’s clean energy transition

Wind energy.
Photo by Jem Sanchez.

Tech giant Apple announced that it has invested in an Australian wind farm to help customers charge their Apple products with clean energy. The move is part of the company’s move to become carbon neutral by 2030.

Apple has invested in a 600 MW wind farm project in Queensland, Australia to mitigate emissions from customers charging Apple products.

The transition to renewable energy has helped significantly reduce the company’s scope 1 and 2 emissions, and the new initiative makes strides towards reducing scope 3 emissions.

Apple has decoupled growth from emissions, seeing significant growth in revenues while reducing emissions.

New project to power the equivalent of 300,000 homes

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) continues to scale up its investments in renewable energy with a new 600 MW wind power project in Australia.

The Upper Burdekin Wind Farm, located on pastoral land in the indigenous Gugu Badum country in Queensland, is being built by Australian wind power developer Windlab and will begin operations in 2026. Once in operation, the wind farm will be able to power the equivalent of 300,000 homes, and Apple’s investment in the wind farm accounts for 80,000 of these homes.

The company says the investment will allow its customers in the region to use and power their Apple products with renewable electricity, instead of coal electricity which currently dominates Australia’s grid.

In 2020, coal made up 54% of the country’s total electricity generation, with wind and solar power accounting for 18% according to official statistics published by Australia’s Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water.

Queensland holds the majority of the country’s coal resources, however building new coal power stations is becoming increasingly more expensive and less reliable compared to renewable energy projects. A study from public policy think thank the Australia Institute found that Queensland’s gas and coal power stations are the most unreliable of any state in the country’s National Electricity Market (NEM), and that building and running renewable energy with built-in storage is 30% cheaper than new coal-fired power stations.

Apple’s vice president of environment, policy, and social initiatives Lisa Jackson said that the company is “proud to play a part in Australia’s transition to a clean energy grid”.

“We recognise the urgent need to address the climate crisis, and we’re accelerating our global work to ensure our products have a net zero climate footprint across their entire life cycle”, commented Jackson.

The investment is a step towards achieving the company’s net zero targets, which have been validated by the Science Based Targets initiative. Apple aims to become carbon neutral across its entire business, manufacturing supply chain, and product life cycle by 2030.

Renewable energy is a key pillar of Apple’s net zero strategy

According to Apple’s 2021 sustainability report, the company’s climate initiatives avoided over 23 million metric tonnes of emissions across all scopes, reducing the company’s carbon footprint by 40% compared to 2015. This brings the company over halfway towards its goal of reducing emissions by 75% from 2015 for its entire product carbon footprint, with investment in carbon removal solutions used to absorb the remaining quarter of emissions.

The transition to renewable energy is one of Apple’s priorities to reduce the emissions of their operations and products. The company claims to already power their corporate operations with 100% renewable electricity through either direct ownership of projects (9%), equity investment (3%), or the sourcing of renewable energy through Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) (87%).

This renewable electricity covers the company’s global emissions across their offices, retail stores, and data centres. By 2030, the company aims to also use clean energy to manufacture all Apple products.

Overall, the company claims to have reduced its scope 1 and 2 emissions by 67% since 2011. Moving beyond its own operations, Apple is also tackling its downstream and upstream emissions with renewable energy to reduce scope 3 emissions.

Apple requests suppliers use renewable energy

As of March 2022, 213 of Apple’s suppliers across 25 countries have committed to 100% renewable energy for Apple production, representing the majority of its direct global spend for materials, manufacturing, and assembly of products.

This supplier commitment is equivalent to 16 GW of new renewable energy capacity, with 10 GW already operational today helping to avoid 13.9 million tonnes of carbon emissions.

Perhaps more complicated to reduce are the emissions tied with the power needed to charge Apple devices, as this is dependent on the energy matrix of different countries across the world. The company estimates that the charging of devices represents 22% of Apple’s gross carbon footprint.

The Queensland wind power investment is Apple’s second project to help address these emissions. In April 2022, the company also announced that it had invested in a 300 MW solar power project in Texas that was also specifically designed to address the electricity customers use to charge their Apple devices.

While these projects only account for a small fraction of customer-related emissions, it shows that Apple is taking proactive steps to reduce its scope 3 emissions through tangible projects and could help spur further investments in renewable energy by supporting the growth of the sector.

Revenue growth while reducing emissions

Apple claims to have decoupled growth from emissions, with the company’s revenue growing at a much faster rate than its emissions. In 2021, the company’s revenue grew by 33%, while their emissions grew by less than 5% according to their sustainability report.

To mitigate the 5% growth in emissions, Apple applied an additional 0.6 million tonnes of renewable energy credits (RECs) and 0.5 million metric tonnes of carbon offsets. However, the company recognises that using these types of credits to offset emissions is a “short-term bridging solution” as they scale up more tangible carbon reduction programs.

“Clean energy is good for business and good for the planet” commented Jackson on Apple’s experience on transitioning to renewable energy.

Apple’s rapid transition to renewable energy on the road to net zero could be setting an example for companies that climate action can be good for the bottom line for the world’s top companies.

In 2022, Apple was ranked seventh on the Fortune Global 500 list, the only tech company in the top 10, which is mainly made up of large retailers and fossil fuel energy companies. This highlights that companies can still be competitive on a global scale while investing significantly in the net zero transition.

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